Why just write a Regency Romance when you can also add a mystery?

How many (believable) ways are there to die in Regency England? Well, in order to set up the plot situations for The Lost Heir, I had to kill off a lot of fictional people. 

And it all started with an Earl and his three sons. 

From my research (plus every book I’ve read set in the same era!), the firstborn son–the heir–would be groomed from childhood to eventually take over the running of the estate. But since that also meant mixing and mingling with other peers of the realm and not carrying any real responsibility yet while eventually seeking that strategic or advantageous marriage alliance, they were often the ones most likely to be seen frequenting the races or gambling halls or finding entertainment somewhere like hunting at a house party.

The second son-the spare heir so to speak–was often sent into military service. Usually the father or another relative would pull some strings or made a donation somewhere in order to buy an officer’s commission. Meaning a job with a bit more status and perks than the regular soldier.

The third son and beyond? These leftovers often went into church service. It was a respectable profession that could provide a stable income without stooping to lawyering, doctoring, commerce, or manual labor.

Enter my spark of a story idea involving the discovery of a “lost heir” and the ripple effect of that revelation. In order for that to happen, I had to set up all the past events from the parents’ generation in a believable way so that the main “current” story was possible.

At the heart of the backstory, I needed the third son to inherit the earldom practically overnight. And for him to be separated from his pregnant wife and even believe her to be dead…leaving the newborn child “lost” and brought up far away from their birthright situation.

Enter a series of falling of dominos plus an unlucky coincidence.

What if the earl’s heir (a viscount by title) fell from his horse and died? What if the shock of that news caused the father to have a heart attack or stroke or “apoplexy” and his youngest son leaves his pregnant wife behind and rushes to his father’s side? What if in the middle of that medical situation plus handling the funeral arrangements, the family learns that the new heir (the second born) had been killed overseas…and that additional shock fells the father completely? Leaving behind the dutiful but unprepared third son as the new earl.

In the middle of all my supposing, I found a newspaper article from the basic time period necessary for these past events to have occurred. And one of the top stories was about the Mutiny on the Bounty.

Aha! A military death with a touch of unique historical accuracy.

And so was birthed (pun intended) the prologue for The Lost Heir where I tried to lay out the overall situation for the reader and set up the mystery.

Who is the child and where are they raised? How will the truth be revealed? What are the ramifications of that revelation? 

If you haven’t already read the book, you can see the Prologue below. What do you think? Can you see the seeds of my idea on the page? How many ways to die did I pack into one single scene? (I think I only specifically left out the dangers of childbirth but those were also implied by going into labor early!)


Mid-March 1790, Belgrave Manor

Breaking her fast alone still took getting used to.

However, alone was a relative statement for the liveried footman standing at attention beside the breakfast room’s ornate sideboard gave credit to her meticulous hostess, Lady Beaumont.

Mrs. Armstrong swallowed her sip of tea and returned her china cup to the saucer before picking at the usually tempting morsels on her plate. She forced herself to take a bite.

And then another.

She needed her strength for the days ahead.

Oh, if only her Ned were here then she could lean on him in this time of horrific loss.

She blinked away the sudden rush of tears.

How could it be true? Shouldn’t her heart have sensed the trouble long before the news finally reached her last eve?

And yet a fortnight had passed since the fire at the coaching inn in Wheatley had left her an orphan, claiming the lives of her parents and siblings. Almost a fortnight since their mass funerals. And over a fortnight since she’d penned the letter to Ned in London announcing her change of plans.

Why he hadn’t come or at least sent word? What business was keeping him away?

Pray heaven that his time in town among those of rank had not turned his head or filled him with regret over her simpler upbringing.

The sharp pain squeezing her chest spread to her enlarged midsection and she set down her fork in order to rest her hand atop the increasing evidence of their child.

With weeks to go before her confinement, she’d been the logical—albeit last minute—substitution to serve as companion during her aunt’s convalescence after a fall.

But mending a broken bone was simpler than mending a broken heart. And what cruel irony to have escaped mere rumors of a spreading pestilence when the real danger had been an unswept chimney that doomed the inn’s inhabitants to a fiery fate.

Leaving her with a widowed aunt and her precious Ned as family.

If only he was near to offer comfort and prayers on her behalf.

She would ask Lady Beaumont to send a messenger to his family’s London home posthaste, but such a request must wait until they were settled over their embroidery in the drawing room.

After all, since her injuries, the lady of the house took a breakfast tray in her rooms and only admitted her lady’s maid into her inner sanctum.

And today her hostess was equally burdened with her own grief.

“M’lady?”

She glanced up to see the butler near her elbow with a folded newspaper presented on a silver tray.

“Perhaps something to distract you from your woes?”

“Indeed.” She swallowed hard and reached for the offering. “I thank you for your kindness.”

Living amidst such luxury and exercising the required formalities had been an adjustment, but her mother’s sister had married well and after her husband’s untimely death, Lady Beaumont was left a proper estate complete with a household of servants and an annual income. And as the lady’s niece, the inevitable lessons in proper decorum would serve her well in the future. Ned would surely be pleased at the change.

She unfolded the paper and began to read while sipping on a fresh cup of tea. The first reports were from the House of Lords followed by the House of Commons and by the time she’d finished her tea, she’d turned the page to such items as a salary for the speaker and the consideration of a large bounty for surgeons on slave ships if they provided proof that no more than two slaves in each hundred taken onboard perished.

Her stomach revolted at such a situation and she moved to the next report of mutiny onboard the HMS Bounty. How could God fearing sailors not only defy their authority but set them adrift with meager provisions to fend for themselves against the tides and the natives?

Another harsh cramp beset her and she breathed slowly through the pain that had spread to her lower back.

Already burdened by her grief, the heavy news of the world was too much to bear. Perhaps a lighter distraction?

As the tension eased, her eyes skimmed the page, falling upon the notice of an estate being sold at auction. A reward being offered for the return of a lost greyhound. And an employment posting seeking shoemakers.

Yes. The mundane aspects of life.

She smiled and turned the page yet again, eventually locating the marriage announcements and other items of society gossip. Her aunt would enjoy dissecting the matrimonial news over their stitching.

Midway down the first column was the news that the banns had been read for the Earl of Wiltshire.

Her eyes widened. A man on his deathbed made for an unusual groom.

A whisper escaped her lips as she read on. A small private ceremony was planned in deference to the recent tragedies in the family. The bride was previously betrothed to the Viscount Lewisham.

She held her breath. The viscount’s death in a hunting accident a month ago was the reason Ned had left her side in the first place.

The announcement continued. In addition to grieving the loss of his father and two elder brothers, the Sixth Earl had recently lost his first wife in a fire…

“No!” She pushed back her chair and jumped to her feet. “It cannot be.”

The footman rushed to her side. “M’lady?”

A vicious pain sliced across her abdomen and she clutched the edge of the table as a flood of warm liquid washed over her feet.

Tears burned her eyes and she panted for breath. “Dear God. It’s too soon for the babe…”

Backlist Bonus: The Lost Heir
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